Generic Pre-Review Wrestling Disclaimer: Long before my affinity for globetrotting documentaries, Martin Scorsese films and The Criterion Collection, I found a soft spot for professional wrestling. Don't ask me how this happened; it just did. Despite this declaration, I shower daily, all my teeth are accounted for, I have a college degree...and believe it or not, I have a wife with the same merits. I'm not alone, of course. The wrestling fans I know aren't slack-jawed yokels; they simply appreciate the spectacle and illusion that this genuine sport creates, in the same way movie lovers enjoy fast-paced fights and thrilling chase sequences. Long story short: we know this stuff is "fake", but we like it anyway. Give us a break.
Summerslam is WWE's regular August pay-per-view; it's been a yearly tradition since 1988, when the first installment was held at Madison Square Garden. As the fourth of the "Big Five" PPVs (the others being Royal Rumble, Wrestlemania, Survivor Series and King of the Ring), this annual event has enjoyed a great amount of success over the years. Though it has no regular "gimmick matches" like most of its Big Five brethren, Summerslam typically mixes a handful of title defenses with several mid-card matches. 1988 kicked things off with a bang, thanks to the steamrolling popularity of stars like Hulk Hogan, Randy "Macho Man" Savage, Jake "The Snake" Roberts and The Ultimate Warrior. Even the "heels"---or bad guys, if you're new to the sport---like Andre the Giant and "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase proved to be an essential part of the picture. Since then, many of the faces have changed...but for the most part, it's still a matter of good vs. evil.
My first real exposure to WWE, aside from the occasional match while channel-surfing, didn't occur until around 1993. So while I missed the first five years of Summerslam, I caught just about every installment from then on. This third volume of WWE's continuing anthology series represents a turning point for the struggling company; as a snapshot of WWE circa 1998-2002, this five-disc set shows the company taking back their secure place in pop culture. The newly-named "Attitude Era" was in full swing at this point, with superstars like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, HHH, Edge & Christian and The Hardy Boyz leading the way. Many goofy characters and gimmicks were still around, but this was a much darker version of the clean-cut wrestling that older WWF fans were used to. It was an exciting time to be a wrestling fan, and WWE's dynamic new approach---spurred on, of course, by stiff competition from the now-defunct WCW---was evident in almost every aspect of their product. On a match-by-match basis, here's what's included on Summerslam Anthology, Volume 3:
(43 matches on 5 single-sided DVDs)
Disc Eleven: Summerslam 1998
D'Lo Brown vs. Val Venis [WWF European Championship Match]
Disc Twelve: Summerslam 1999
Jeff Jarrett vs. D'Lo Brown [WWF IC/European "Title for Title" Championship Match]
Disc Thirteen: Summerslam 2000
Right to Censor vs. Too Cool [Six-Man Tag Match]
Disc Fourteen: Summerslam 2001
Lance Storm vs. Edge [WWF Intercontinental Championship Match]
Disc Fifteen: Summerslam 2002
Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio
A few general observations, before we briefly look at the match quality. Viewing these events back-to-back made me realize the subtle shifts in WWE's match presentation, specifically the number of gimmick matches involved. In fact, every single match from 1998 and 1999 had a special gimmick or stipulation---and by the time 2002 rolled around, only one was on the card. The late 1990s was a time when the WWF (the former name of WWE, before their legal battle with the World Wildlife Fund) and now-defunct WCW were in a heated competition for ratings supremacy. This created great programming as each company tried to one-up the other, and it also led to many gimmicks to draw in new viewers. Luckily, by the time the dust settled, these gimmick matches were few and far between, though they helped to create many classic moments in their own right.
It's also interesting to see that two Benoit matches are on board; after the stomach-churning events of 2007, WWE pulled his appearances from future DVD releases. I suppose since these discs were already pressed from the previous Anthology release, they didn't bother to chop up what was already finished. Speaking of editing, the now-infamous logo blurring is also maintained for the first four events, but the 2002 show aired after the company's name change.
Tangents aside, this five-year collection is full of great matches. For the most part, if it looks good on paper, it turned out to be a highlight of the evening. The best of the best include 1998's two main events, especially the ladder match with HHH and The Rock (seen at top); 1999's triple threat Championship match; 2000's epic encounter between Benoit and Jericho, the landmark TLC match from the same year (image #3); nearly all of the championship matches from 2001; and finally, the red-hot brawl between The Rock and Brock Lesnar from 2002. These matches, and many others, aren't just highlights from their respective years; they're some of the best of their decades and hold up perfectly well today. The WWE roster was arguably never more well-stocked than it was during this era---and with a talent pool this deep, it's no surprise that the highlights come fast and furiously.
Of course, it wouldn't be a proper recap without the low-points---and for the most part, they're also the weakest ones on paper. The women's matches have never been a strong part of WWE programming, aside from the talents of former champions like Ivory, Trish Stratus and others. These segments are mostly here for eye candy, but the typically lukewarm crowd responses don't help matters any. A few stinkers also arrive in the form of "squash" matches and a those ending with DQs and cheap finishes, not to mention a few tag teams that seem to be holdovers from the cheesy early-90s era (here's looking at you, Oddities). Overall, though, even the most dated aspects of these productions can largely be forgiven; after all, some of us were also wearing South Park T-shirts ten years ago.
Simply put, there's a ton of great content during this fifteen-hour collection of vintage Summerslam events. On the technical side of things, this five-disc set is generally on par with modern WWE releases: production values are decent, entrance music is intact and full matches are included. Overall, most wrestling fans should easily find this collection worth the price of admission; it's a bargain when compared to most other stand-alone PPV releases. If you've got a soft spot for this era of wrestling and several evenings to spare, Summerslam Anthology, Volume 3 is worth hunting down.
Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Summerslam Anthology, Volume 3 is easily on par with other like-minded WWE DVD releases...taking its age into account, of course. The company wouldn't switch to their now-regular 16x9 format for another six years, so fans of this era should know what to expect. Colors are generally bold and bright, on-screen graphics are crisp and black levels are typically solid. Several digital issues arrive in the form of pixellation and compression artifacts (especially during pyrotechnic sequences and crowd shots), which keeps this collection from looking as good as it ought to. With that said, these digital issues have affected all WWE DVDs, so fans should be used to what's on display here.
The audio is presented in a fairly standard Dolby Surround mix; likewise, it's roughly on par with recent WWE releases. Crowd noise and regular play-by-play commentary come through loud and clear, creating a satisfying soundstage overall. Optional subtitles, Spanish commentary or Closed Captions are not offered during these events, unfortunately.
WWE has wisely divided the massive Summerslam Anthology into more digestible five-disc sets, and Volume 3 is the most consistent and satisfying volume to date. Moreso than the slightly lackluster second volume, this five-disc set is absolutely loaded with plenty of classic moments, from the landmark "TLC" six-man match to a series of monumental one-on-one showdowns. The technical presentation is strictly on par with other "Attitude Era" WWE releases, while the lack of bonus content is offset by the running time and retail price. Overall, Summerslam Anthology, Volume 3 is a no-brainer for those seeking a nostalgia fix...or simply a great snapshot of the WWE during its dynamic, propulsive peak. Highly Recommended...if you haven't picked it up already, of course.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.